From Enemy Territory, it’s Nice Being on Other Side of Blue Jackets’ Early Fortunes

The Columbus Blue Jackets hold the edge in their best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals.

Whew, what a series.

This is delightfully unfamiliar territory for me—written up 2-0 but feelings the same overall—for all of us that have supported and watched the Columbus Blue Jackets with unabashed and unbridled enthusiasm, anger, furor, whatever the emotions to describe the last 17 hockey seasons. The fanbase has been through a lot over the years, from the days of just feeling good after an awesome, yet relatively meaningless, regular season win over the Detroit Red Wings—remember that 8-2 win?—to now holding their first-ever best-of-seven series 2-1 lead.

It was bound to happen. So we would have all imagined. But what is especially different and interesting for me is being in and around Capitals country and hearing the other side. The fans calling into local D.C. sports talk radio’s The Steve Czaban Show, grieving through ‘The five stages of Capitals grief.’

And then also for me, being in that unique viewpoint of living within the locale of the D.C. hockey team and hearing outsiders’ viewpoints of the Jackets.

Columbus was thought to be the weaker link just based on the seeding, that the Capitals winning yet another division title and past playoff experience must hold enough weight to impose some amount of confidence. That the Capitals were at least setting their sights on the second round before that other shoe dropped and impending doom struck.

Most around D.C. would echo the sentiment that this year’s Capitals team is not like its previous Stanley Cup contenders that were often picked by pundits to win the whole thing. But maybe this was the iteration of the team that would rally around the notion that they would, in a sense, fly under the radar.

It’s just the Jackets.

And with the series 2-1, this could just be getting more interesting. But there’s certainly more to like than not at this juncture. There were some lucky bounces through the first two games and some unlucky posts.

Just some musings...

For me, it has always been interesting whenever the Jackets are spoken about on national tv. Or even just by other broadcasters because it seems like it never happens. Granted, they have needed a big playoff series to begin garnering attention—if the Penguins were on a 16-game winning streak, NBCSN would have aired every game—and this is still an under-the-radar club because they’re just the Jackets.

At least, that’s the public perception I pick up on.

They are a professional team among the major sports, but they’re still in a state occupied by The Ohio State Buckeyes. But it’s okay to be under-the-radar because then you might escape the pressures of the world watching your every move.

The previous Jackets playoff teams have been met with the great misfortune of playing the eventual Stanley Cup champion in two of their previous three trips to the playoffs.

But hey, that’s the nature of the beast.

In the 2013-14 playoffs, the Jackets delighted us with their first-ever playoff win. They and the Penguins swapped come-from-behind wins. Columbus has carried that trend forward, having now overcome seven two-goal deficits in four of their five franchise playoff wins since 2014. Three in this series against the Capitals and almost a fourth Tuesday night.

(Great effort, for what it’s worth).

Though not ideal to dig early game deficits, the Jackets have played up their resiliency time and time again.

Washington held a 16-4-4 advantage, including a mark of 20 wins in their last 24 regular-season meetings, points in 11 of 12, against the Blue Jackets before Columbus ended that with their 5-1 win Feb. 26.

But it’s been a new team since the outset of that win, having made the trade deadline acquisitions that helped transition the Jackets from fringe-playoff status to a 14-4-2 run and now their 2-1 lead over the Capitals. The latter being the only advantageous streak that matters at the most important time of year.

Sergei Bobrovsky came into the playoffs with a lot to prove and has delivered in a huge way, stopping 54 shots against Washington in yet another overtime performance in Game 2. He has proven, thus far, he can be relied upon just as he often is during the regular season.

Bobrovsky made another 42 saves during Tuesday’s double-overtime affair.

Through the first two games, the offense remained a juggernaut with nine goals in the two wins, and the power play hummed along at 50%, going four-for-eight in the early portion of the series. Now if only they could stay out of the penalty box, which the equally as capable and potent Capitals have sent home six power play goals in 17 chances through three games.

I keep going back to my analogy from early March: And I can guarantee the rollercoaster nausea will accompany the ride, every rise to the top and fall to the bottom, the rest of the way.

That seemed apropos for course of the season to date, back around early March. But hey, that roller coaster keeps churning its way to the top.

Let’s see how high the ride takes us.

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